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The Lib Dems are yellow Tories.

Andy Newman

    Blimey, we can tell that Doctor Who is back on the TV, because time travel is now all the rage. More than a hundred years after the formation of the Labour party Tariq Ali has called for a vote for the Tories in an election.

    Except these Tories call themselves Liberal Democrats. they distinguish themselves from the conservative party by  not deriving their social attitudes from a Surbiton golf club in the 1950s, but apart from that they are a big-business party as loathsome and rancid as the conservatives.

    This mistaken view is further popularized by Jim Jepps (on this web-site) who argues: "It's certainly true that in some areas across the country the only way to punish a pro-war Labour MP is a tactical Lib Dem vote. Any jump in Lib Dem fortunes will be seen as a reward for their 'opposition' to the war. ... Also in their favour is their approach to the war on terror, civil liberties and asylum which, compared to the two headed monster, looks like some sort of Leninist internationalism. But let's not get carried away - whilst it *might* be acceptable in your area to vote for the Lib Dems this once the job of building a progressive strand of politics does not lie with the yellow peril."

    Jim's argument fails on two important points. Firstly he is promoting implicitly the entirely wrong view that the war in Iraq is the only issue socialists should consider. Secondly he promotes the idea that voting for such a right wing neo-liberal party might - just this once - contribute to progressive politics.

    Jim describes Labour and the Tories as a "two headed monster" in contrast to the Lib Dems. But even though Labour is a thoroughly capitalist party, its historical links to the workers' movement still means that there are socialists within it, such as Alan Simpson and John MacDonnell, and the Labour Party has a structural antagonism with the progressive agenda from the affiliated unions. It is a travesty to regard Labour and the Tories as cut from the same cloth, but it is entirely accurate to describe the Lib Dems as an unmitigated right-wing party.

    I understand that as the Lib Dems have positioned themselves as an anti-war party some progressives may be tempted to vote for them on that basis. But the task of socialists is to expose the Lib Dems for what they are. A strengthened Lib Dem vote strengthens the drift of the political spectrum to the right, and makes building an alternative more difficult. It may be frustrating if that means the only choice in your constituency is pro-war Labour or abstention. But where there is no left of Labour candidate that is the only choice there is, and voting for the Lib Dems is no better option than voting for UKIP.

    Make no mistake in terms of economic policy the Lib Dems are more Thatcherite that either the Conservatives or New Labour. This claim may seem surprising, but I quote here from Samuel Brittan writing in the Evening Standard:>

    "In going for the Lib-Dems I am under no illusion that they are the party of Gladstone and John Stuart Mill. But at least they are different from Labour and Conservative; and there is nothing wrong in voting for negative reasons. In the past I have shrunk from supporting them because they looked too much like the unreconstructed Old Labour of the 1980s. But since Gordon Brown's large increases in public service spending, they have found less mileage in that direction; and the recent Orange Book from the still-too-small free market wing of the party suggests a move in the right direction, as does the appointment of the eminently sensible Vincent Cable as their shadow chancellor."

    The appointment of Cable was a significant move. Former chief economist with Shell International PLC, he is an ideological neo-liberal who has written various books and articles on globalisation and trade liberalization. This was widely commented on in the press at the time of his appointment as an attempt by the Lib Dems to turn themselves into a Thatcherite party.

    Lib Dem economic policy includes "reducing unnecessary subsidies to industry" They also want to take further economic powers away from the treasury and vest them with the Independent Bank of England, without any democratic control. "We advocated and welcomed the decision that interest rates should be set independently by the Bank of England, but there needs to be more independent scrutiny and discipline in monetary and fiscal policy. ..  and the Bank itself should decide the most appropriate inflation level to aim for."

    At their recent conference they voted for binding arbitration in industrial disputes: "to require both workforce and employers to submit to binding arbitration where the workforce in a vital area has voted for industrial action". A direct assault on the right to strike for the fire-service and postal trade unions.

    Their manifesto pledges draconian cuts in civil service jobs:  the Department for Trade and Industry would be scraped saving 8.2bn over five years, and 2.65bn would be cut from the Department for Work and Pensions, 1.6bn from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. A bonfire of jobs and huge cuts in service provision.

    They also promise further privatization - selling off the Royal Mint. Given the success of previous privatizations we would be bartering chickens within a couple of years.

    Although they would encourage local authorities to build council-houses, which is progressive, they also plan to extend the current right to buy legislation to other Registered Social Landlords (housing associations) so the overall stock of social housing may not be increased.

    Their much heralded plans for a local income tax will be a regressive tax that has a cap on contributions for those earning over 100000, and may lead to some lower income families paying more than they do now in council-tax (because it will extend the burden of direct taxation for the lowest paid).  The Lib Dems support poverty wages: they oppose increasing the minimum wage saying this would be "unfair to big-business".

    The party backs the proposed EU constitution that establishes a European imperial army, and ring-fences private property rights. They backs Britain's entry to the euro - and the growth and stability pact would lead to further assaults on working class living standards.

    So why vote for this shower? Because they opposed the war on Iraq? Did they? Didn't dipsomaniac leader Charles Kennedy congratulate UK and US troops after their murderous assault on Iraq. Didn't the Lib Dems support the war on Afghanistan. One of the hallmarks of the Lib Dems is their opportunist policy of saying whatever is popular to get votes, and then when in office (and they do run a number of councils) ignoring their electoral mandate.

    Over the years the Lib Dems have played fast and lose with racism, notoriously in Tower Hamlets in the 1980s whipping up a racist climate about Bengali immigration.

    But worse, worse than all this, is that they stoke up the cynicism about politics felt by ordinary working people. They put out their pathetic "Focus" leaflets claiming that the sad, personally ambitious no-marks that they stand for office are "local activists", when all they do is stand in front of some local landmarks for photos for their leaflets. Their leaflets shamelessly lie - in the past 3 years there have been two grossly false claims in the leaflets in Swindon. All this is part and parcel of the Lib Dems own contempt for the voters - who they seem to regard as fair game for manipulation and spin.

    So reject this argument of despair. The animosity we feel towards the Conservatives should extend to the Lib Dems  - who are also Tories even if they wear jumpers and not pin-stripe suits.



April 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism